Local non-profit Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA) has completed the first grant cycle for Direct-to-Farmer grants and distributed the first round of funds to awarded farmers for this year. Building on the success of the WNC AgOptions grant model, BRWIA encouraged collaboration between the applicants and their county Cooperative Extension Agents.
Funding from Heifer International through Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture has enabled eight farmers across a five county – two state region, to start a variety of projects in Alleghany, Ashe, Wilkes, and Watauga counties in North Carolina and Johnson County, Tennessee. Heifer, a global non-profit organization, is dedicated to working with communities to end hunger and poverty through sustainable agricultural practices.
In Johnson County, two farms were grant recipients and they have now begun to make progress on their very exciting ventures. Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture has done follow up visits with these farmers and are pleased to inform the public about the development of these projects.
Mary Shull grew up on her familys diverse farm which was a Grade A dairy until 1996 and has been in the family for eight generations now. She played a big part in helping the farm run, including milking cows, caring for the calves, pigs, and chickens, and helping her dad maintain the few hives of bees they had. In 2014 she decided to take a beekeeping class and began focusing more on expanding her honeybee population. Mary currently has about 20 hives on her property, Neva Valley Apiary, which she uses to bottle honey and make wax candles. She makes about 10% of her income from selling her bee products and plans to go full time on the farm within the next five years. Mary was granted $2,500 for her project, which is to plant a perennial wildflower field to increase her bees honey production while keeping the hives healthy and supplying a source of food for natural pollinators. Mary did a lot of research and made sure to purchase pure flower seeds along with a variety that would bloom in the summer and fall months. She chose a six-acre field on her property that was lying dormant after having been previously used for tobacco and wheat production. She had some trouble with weeds, deer, and weather but despite those set-backs she was able to provide some additional food for her bees and keep them healthy. She is caring for her bees in the most natural way possible, avoiding harmful chemicals and practices that may hurt her bees or the natural environment they live in. This shows an appreciation for sustainable agriculture and an understanding of the importance of strong honeybee populations. She has learned some valuable lessons about how to keep rag weeds at bay with cover crops and which flowers are the most efficient at surviving the elements and providing her bees with the most nutrition. Mary has high hopes for next year now that she knows how to manage some of the issues that may arise. She is an active member of the Beekeepers Association in Johnson County and plans to share her successes and challenges with that group as well as encourage them to grow their own bee crops and apply for future BRWIA grants. Marys work and willingness to share expertise, grow her fields as natural as possible, and pass her knowledge and family land on to her niece and nephew, bodes well for the plight of our honey bees.
Charles Dan Osborne and his family own Dug Hill Apiary. Their main source of farming income used to be tobacco and beef cattle but since the decline in tobacco sales, they have not grown tobacco in over ten years. Dan also grew up on a family farm and has been involved with bees since he was six years old. Currently, farming only contributes to 3% of the Osbornes household income and Dan supplements that by working at a local factory but he plans to expand his hives and produce more honey as he moves toward retirement. Dan currently has about 25 hives and would like to add another 10-15 over the next couple years. His hives are surrounded by a variety of fruit trees including apples, plum, pear, peach, and blueberry bushes. His current market is family, friends and co-workers which is more demand than he can presently keep up with. He would like to grow his honey business to keep up with and eventually grow sales, especially since he also has local stores asking for his honey.
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